MEXICO CITY — Eleven men alleged to be on a hit squad for a powerful drug cartel were arrested Tuesday at two Mexico City mansions stocked with grenades and automatic weapons — a day after Mexican authorities reported nabbing one of the cartel's reputed leaders.
Police said it was the first time they have found a safe house linked to the cartel in the capital city.
"Yes, the cartel is operating here in Mexico City," said Edgar Millan, top commander of Mexico's national federal police, at a news conference following pre-dawn raids on two houses in southern Mexico City. Eight men were arrested in one raid and three in the other.
Millan said the men, whose identities were not released, were part of three cartel "commando" groups that may have been preparing attacks in response to a federal crackdown on drug trafficking.
President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of soldiers into states throughout Mexico to combat drug gangs battling for territory and for control over corrupt local police forces.
Caches of guns, grenades
The suspects were lined up in the homes' spacious living rooms and presented to reporters alongside caches of seized weapons, including 20 fragmentation grenades, automatic weapons, rifles, and materials presumably intended for constructing a drug lab.
Police also found 40 bulletproof vests, eight of which bore the initials FEDA, which Millan said was likely a Spanish acronym for "Arturo's Special Forces." Authorities also found an unspecified amount of cash in one of the homes.
Arturo Beltran Leyva is one of five brothers believed to be top lieutenants of the Sinaloa drug cartel, based in the northwestern Mexican state of the same name. A second brother, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was arrested early Monday in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan with two suitcases containing $900,000, an assault rifle, a luxury SUV and 11 expensive watches, the army said.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, praised Monday's arrest as "a significant victory."
Army Gen. Luis Arturo Oliver Cen said Alfredo Beltran Leyva commanded two groups of hit men for the cartel, whose reach extends from the northwestern state of Sonora to the southern state of Oaxaca. He was allegedly in charge of transporting drugs, bribing officials and laundering money for the cartel, which is led by Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin Guzman.
Guzman escaped from federal prison in 2001 in a laundry cart after bribing guards.
Two weeks of bloodshed
Alfredo Beltran Leyva's arrest follows two weeks of bloody confrontations along the U.S.-Mexico border between federal agents and gunmen suspected of working for the Arellano Felix and Gulf cartels, rivals of the Sinaloa.
In the border state of Tamaulipas, across from Texas, dozens of soldiers in armored cars surrounded the police stations in Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and Reynosa on Tuesday to check whether the police officers' weapons, radios and phones were connected to crimes.
No arrests were reported and officers were allowed back on the streets.
Soldiers also randomly stopped cars in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, in search of assailants who shot and wounded a state police chief on Monday night. The attack came the day after a Juarez police captain was shot to death in his patrol car.
Also Monday, gunmen firing from a car shot to death Judge Ernesto Palacios in a suburb of the northern city of Monterrey, police said. He had been overseeing the trial of two alleged hit men arrested in 2005.
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